[RPG] How to handle players who want to browse shops at random

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If one or more of my players decide to go on a shopping spree, I've previously had problems describing the shop's inventory, without going into much detail or making it seem like the shop has only 2 items.

Of course, I can describe the atmosphere and the general nature of the inventory (e.g. "herbs" or "jewelry"), and that's just fine if the players walk into the shop looking for something specific, such as an herb that stops bleeding or a silver necklace with a sapphire embedded into it.

However, I'm unsure how to handle players that recently noticed "Hey, I've got 500 gold floating around that I want to spend on useless stuff". Or, in other words, players that want to look around for random shops with a random inventory to see if they find something of interest.

In the real world, this works, because you can literally walk into a random shop and look around to see if there's anything interesting. In D&D, the DM has to come up with something, and it's boring and frustrating for the players if it's always the same things.

So, what can I do to make random shopping interesting for the players, without for example preparing huge inventory lists in advance?

Best Answer

You can use Tables!

Or, because we live in the Distant Future, random generators (which are really just fancy tables). Having pre-generated tables allows you to easily generate interesting items, boring items, and everything in-between, as needed, mid-adventure.

I've tried a number of more specific techniques for this in the past, to varying degrees of success:

  1. Generate 1 to 3 hoards (via any of a number of freely available online generators). Discard coins. Use as inventory. This worked well for pawn shops and the like in 3.5 but not in 5e because magic items are supposed to not be for sale.

  2. Use donjon's trinket generator to generate interesting items that stand out against a background of self-generated miscellany.

  3. Use chaotic shiny's merchant generator to generate shops, use gm discretion and system knowledge to fill in details as needed.

  4. Put the table generation on the players instead. For example, they can buy whatever they want off the equipment table from the PHB, but must roll v.s. the item's price for each item to see if it is available in that shop. If they roll to buy something, you record it and that thing is always available or never available there from now on, if it comes up again.

I've also used non-table methods to some success, but that's a bit off-topic in an answer about tables.

Of the above table-based solutions, incorporating either sort of random generator worked well. Individual items are better if you want to spend more time focusing on the actual shopping around and digging through available items part, the merchant generator is better if you are focusing on interacting with stores as a whole. Having players generate whether or not things were available was successful in signaling that shopping was not something I was interested in running, but did shut down the players desiring to focus the campaign on shopping.